Four UCP leadership candidates came together Thursday morning and didn’t mince words when calling out their fellow candidates’ proposed and highly controversial sovereignty act.
Brian Jean said every candidate was invited to the news conference, aside from Danielle Smith. Travis Toews, Rajan Sawhney and Leela Aheer were present along with Jean, as he explained it was a “political decision” to come forward and say something.
Smith had proposed the Alberta sovereignty act back in June as part of her platform promises. However, it quickly became one of the main talking points as many – including the current premier of Alberta – called the plan for more provincial independence as “risky” and “dangerous.”
“Danielle’s sovereignty act will not do what she says it will do,” Jean said. He explained some of the things she’s already claimed the prime minister has the authority to do are completely erroneous such as “forcing vaccinations on school kids, impossible.”
Jean admitted his policy views are different than those of whom were standing beside him; however, they came together to as they “don’t disagree on reality.”
“So much of what Danielle Smith is saying is a constitutional fairy tale,” he said.
“She is telling voters that she has a magic wand that changes how law jurisdiction and how economics all work.”
Meantime, Aheer called the act an attack on Albertan and Canadian values and claims Albertans have the advantage to be a leader in Canada rather than leaving Canada.
“Either the sovereignty act is something that’s a symbolic gesture, like motions that have been passed by Quebec’s natural assembly, or the sovereignty act is blatantly unconstitutional and the equivalent of starting a bar brawl in the middle of confederation,” Aheer said.
“Either way, Danielle Smith is playing with fire and selling a fantasy to her supporters.”
Todd Loewen and Rebecca Schulz were the two who did not attend the short news conference.
Schulz later took to Twitter to say she’s hasn’t supported the proposed act since it was announced.
“If Day 1 in the legislature is about introducing the sovereignty act, the stories on Day 2 will be of disunity and members voting down the government’s bill,” Schulz said in a news release.
In a video posted to social media, Loewen said he was in Rocky Mountain House and the press conference with his other UCP leader-hopefuls took place while he was in transit.
“This is what disunity and desperation looks like,” Loewen said. “I wish those candidates would stand up against (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau as strong as they stand against the sovereignty act.”
“Name-calling and divisive rhetoric is a Jason Kenney tactic and needs to stop.”
Loewen told Global News he supports the principles of the sovereignty act.
“I like the sovereignty act and I like it because it allows us to say no to Ottawa,” he said from near Rimbey, Alta. “But I don’t think we need the sovereignty act to say no.
“We need to start saying no immediately to Ottawa and not wait for legislation like that to go through the process of being passed.”
He said if the act passed in the legislature, it wouldn’t be the only piece of provincial legislation considered “unconstitutional.”
“If we look at the turn-off-the-taps legislation, there’s lots of people who said that was unconstitutional,” the independent MLA said.
“There’s quite a few things that the federal government has passed too that have turned out to be unconstitutional… So where this one sits, I guess it’ll depend on what the wording of it is.”
On Tuesday, Smith released an overview of the proposed act, but no wording.
Loewen said “virtually everyone” he’s spoken with while campaigning to be the UCP’s next leader is concerned about the province’s relationship with the federal government and urges the Alberta government to “stand up stronger against Ottawa.”
But Loewen doesn’t think the proposed sovereignty act is a risk to party unity.
“I don’t think it’s hurting the unity of the party, except for when MLAs line up four at a time to bash each other on on it. I think that’s exactly what disunity looks like.”
Irfan Sabir, the NDP MLA for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall, also highlighted the apparent party division within the UCP on Thursday.
“The UCP is at war with itself and consumed by internal drama. They are totally focused on infighting and they have no plan to address the very real challenges that Alberta families are facing,” Sabir said, noting he believes the current government has no apparent plan to address the current affordability or health care crises.
“Instead, the UCP is debating the merits of yet another fraudulent plan to fight with Ottawa and setting up yet another leadership struggle.
“The melodrama we have watched for the past two years will not end on Oct. 6. In fact, it will get much worse and lead to more infighting and more inaction.”
Sabir said the Alberta NDP is “ready to lead” as a united and focused government-in-waiting.
Smith responds to fellow leadership candidates
In an emailed statement, Smith said elections should be about ideas, and that her idea of the act “has dominated” the UCP leadership race.
The former Wildrose Party leader said she’s “excited to give Albertans an opportunity to do what many of their past leaders have failed to achieve… that is to put Alberta first and push Ottawa firmly, but constitutionally, back into their own lane.”
“Several of my leadership candidate colleagues have spoken in opposition to the sovereignty act, and I respect their right to do so. They are good people and I am looking forward to serving with each of them.”
Smith ended her statement by saying she trusts the judgment of the UCP membership to select the leader they feel will best defend them “against Ottawa’s continued unconstitutional attacks against our province.”
“I will respect their decision when it is made. I would expect my future caucus colleagues to do the same.”
Political scientist amazed 4 UCP candidates banded together
A Calgary political observer said it was remarkable to see the four candidates come together in this way.
“I can’t recall seeing something like this in a previous leadership race anywhere.”
“This wasn’t a candidate dropping out and supporting another candidate. This was a group of candidates coming out not against the person or the platform, but one idea,” said Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt.
Bratt added the motivation of the four candidates was likely fear of what would happen if Smith were to win the leadership race and the sovereignty act actually became her number one priority.
“I don’t think this was about winning the leadership race. I think there’s a lot of division amongst them,” Bratt explained.
“This isn’t even an attack on Danielle Smith the person. They all took time to praise her. They didn’t criticize any other aspect of her platform. This was narrowly focused on what they called a very dangerous idea. I think it is the fear of the consequences of that idea and not just the fear of losing to the NDP. I think the fear of the turmoil politically and economically that this could occur.”
Bratt also questioned why Schulz did not join the others on the stage on Thursday in Calgary.
“I’m not surprised Todd Loewen wasn’t on the stage because he supports a bunch of what Smith is doing. Then Schulz puts out a statement that’s like, ‘Oh it’s just a policy debate. I’ll be neutral on this.’ I thought that didn’t show much leadership on an issue this important. This is not a normal policy area. I think she was trying to play partisan games,” Bratt said.
—With files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo and Adam Toy, Global News